Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary Delahunty, sometime newsreader, sometime member for the Victorian lower house seat of Northcote, has packed her bags and left parliament. Only some six weeks before the next state election.

This seems to have been genuinely a sudden decision, since her campaign was actively organizing and raising money as of a fortnight ago, and she also contested a trivial pre-selection battle a few months back. At a personal level, Mary Delahunty has a had a rough trot – losing her mother a few weeks ago, and her husband a few years before that. And she’s been diagnosed with an undisclosed illness recently.

But the threat of being sent to the back bench must also have been on her mind.

So let the games begin.

Northcote is a plum seat, a safe labor seat for generations. Or it least it was, at the last poll, the Greens were nipping at the heals of the ALP. Which is completely consistent with the demographic of the area. Lesbians, young professionals, latte sipping lefties, students (those who can still afford it), the Greens core constituency. Which is saddening, since barely ten years ago they would have been Labor’s core constituents. That is another story.

What the place needs is a strong local candidate, who hasn’t just been parachuted in as part of some cross factional deal. A strong local candidate who knows the area and the people, might actually be recognizable, and might actually share some of the beliefs of the local population.

Chances of this happening? Diddly.

Safe seats are a prize, they are in relatively short supply and hence much cherished, to be haggled over and presented as rewards to “loyal” members of the party. So they can keep a seat warm for a few years, then get a nice shiny pension. Then there is the “celebrity candidate”, recruited with invaluable built-in recognition. Find them another of the safe seats, displacing the locally chosen candidate if any, and hope some of their magic rubs off on the party.

We the people of Northcote have been subjected to both. As a reward for working hard and being loyal party members, as a reward for professing for year after year the values the party (kinda) stands for, we get… Used as a reward in some factional deal.

Pity us who live in the safe seats. The roads are crumbling, the local infrastructure gets older and older. There are no swinging voters here to impress, so no motivation to throw money at us.

Pre-selections for Mary’s old seat opened and closed very soon afterwards. Two names were put forward – a party functionary, already on an upper house ticket, and an ex-Mayor of Darebin. Guess who has got the seat?

The deal was simple really: Northcote, for obscure reasons, was “awarded” to the right of the party. Fiona Richardson, who was first on the ticket for the Western upper house district will get our seat. Justin Madden, who was shifting to the lower house over in Bundoora, takes her spot at the top of the upper house ticket. And the guy who came second to Justin for the Bundoora seat will now contest it instead.

Get it?

The stupidest part about this deal: two out of three of the people involved already had safe positions in the parliament. It would have been skin off no-one’s nose to allow someone from Northcote to contest the seat of Northcote, no one would have to be shoved aside or go unrewarded.

Perhaps Fiona Richardson will make an effort to get to know the locals. Perhaps she really is from nearby, as she claims. Perhaps her electoral office will be open decent hours, with someone in it so the people of Northcote can talk to their local member. Perhaps she will work hard for the area, talk us up in the seat of government, pipe up for us in debates. Perhaps the loyalty of the local members will be rewarded. Perhaps she will regularly attend branch meetings, and not take on too many ministerial responsibilities. Perhaps she will take on issues close to the heart of the local Lesbian community. And the Kooris. Not to mention the groups fighting to rescue Merri Creek. Perhaps. We shall wait and see.